What makes a serum a serum? If you’re thinking: a liquid-y substance packed with small molecules of active ingredients (like vitamin C and hyaluronic acid), made to better absorb into the layers of the skin, you’re absolutely right — or at least you used to be. The latest serums are defying traditional form, with pressed options that feel more like pudding in the jar (and are a heck of a lot more travel-friendly), SPF-laced formulas, and even some that look like Dippin’ Dots.
Can the new breed of serums, with their multi-tasking skills and inventive forms really replace your old one? The short answer: “Only if the serum has ingredients it is trying to push into the skin,” says Heather Rogers, MD, a Seattle-based dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington. Formulas that are made with larger molecules (like heavy moisturizers) can sit on top of the skin and protect it, while making it more difficult for the active ingredients to penetrate the skin barrier.
Stick your finger into this gel-based face treatment and see an imprint form. But just a few minutes after it’s released, the formula remodels itself to look as if it’s never been used. That’s not its only magic trick: The gel also transforms into a serum once on your skin, delivering antioxidants and a bevy of peptides found in more traditional serums.
Perricone MD Re:Firm, $155, available at Nordstrom.
This foundation also works as a solid serum and non-chemical SPF,
delivering ingredients like peptides, turmeric root extract, licorice root, and more into the skin, along with chemical-free SPF actives and excellent coverage.
IT Cosmetics Confidence in a Compact Skin-Transforming Full Coverage Solid Super Serum, $38, available at Ulta.
This K-beauty brand was at the forefront of pressed serums, releasing some of the first to have a whipped, gel-like consistency. This formulation works as a hydrating serum for those with oily skin in winter, moisturizing sans grease. In the summer, the cooling formula shines as a light moisturizer.
Blithe Crystal Ice Plant Pressed Serum, $49, available at Glow Recipie.
Packaging nerds will flip for the gorgeous gold spoon included with this beautiful jar. But even more impressive is this serum’s jelly-like consistency, which feels ultra soothing going on. Thanks to hydrating red algae, squalene, and plant extracts (including royal jelly, green tea, rice, licorice. and more), our skin looks alive in the AM, no matter how many times we hit the snooze button.
Tatcha Overnight Memory Serum Concentrate, $110, available at Tatcha.
These capsules look like multivitamins — and in a sense they are. Instead of swallowing the biodegradable saucer to nourish your body, snap it open and smooth its contents on your skin to deliver wrinkle-addressing lipids and hydrating ceramides.
Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Capsules, $78, available at Elizabeth Arden.
This vegan serum-foundation hybrid may look like Dippin’ Dots suspended in goo, but it actually delivers light coverage, a dewy finish, and a whole lot of skin-loving ingredients, like algae, oat kernel, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C.
Jane Iredale Liquid Minerals A Foundation, $52, available at Jane Iredale.
The idea for this creamy emulsion spiked with sun protection: to help prevent new sun damage from forming with SPF 50 while simultaneously fading sun spots and other damage with antioxidants like vitamins C and E.
La Roche Posay Anthelios AOX Daily Antioxidant Serum with Sunscreen, $42.50, available at Target.
This may look like a mini bar of soap swiped from a hotel room, but it’s actually a serum in disguise. The solid is made with soothing chamomile and mushroom extract (an antioxidant) and quickly absorbs to a velvety finish on the skin. Swipe it directly on your face, then toss it back into the travel tin and go.
Lush Full of Grace Serum, $16, available at Lush.
These sweet bottle of pink and white pearls looks like what one middle-schooler might give another for Valentine’s day. But the part serum, part primer hybrid actually converts to a clear liquid-gel once pumped. Hyaluronic acid, orange flower water, salicylic acid — all ingredients found in our favorite serums also help pave the way for even makeup application.
Paul & Joe Pearl Foundation Primer, $36, available at b-glowing.
Why not double down on vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and plant stem cell cultures while boosting your glow with self-tanner? This clear (and stink-free) serum does both, offering a gradual tan that doesn’t streak, thanks to a gel consistency.
Coola Suncare Sunless Tan Anti-Aging Face Serum, $46, available in March at Coola Suncare.
So technically, this treatment is supposed to be used as a pre-cleanser to help release impurities. But the unusual ritual also packs a bunch of antioxidants, making it an excellent clearing serum for acneic skin. After saturating a cloth into a solution of two capfuls of the compress concentrate mixed in warm water, press the cloth onto your face and neck three times. It helps balance unruly skin and primes it to suck up any nutrients you apply next.
Jurlique Purity Specialist Compress Concentrate, $50, available at Jurlique.
We weren’t expecting much after dispensing what appears to be a thick cream onto the back of our hand. There was no way something this thick could rival our fast-absorbing serums. But it quickly transformed into a liquid once we massaged it in, thanks to what are known as “magic water drops” in Korea — microdroplets that deliver a calming effect.
Amarte Aqua Veil Pure Hydration Serum, $57, available at Amarte Skin Care.
It was only a matter of time before celebrity dermatologist Harold Lancer amped up his stellar serum by giving it a glow-making finish worthy of a Kardashian (no coincidence that Kim is his client). Unlike with many light-reflecting products, this formula contains zero shimmer.
Lancer Skincare Dani Glowing Skin Perfector, $95, available at Lancer Skincare.
Click HERE to read more from Refinery29.